It’s Time to Face America’s Gun Problem

by Callum Nicolson, a second year War Studies student from the UK. 

Does America have a problem with gun control? Do guns need to be heavily regulated or are the current restrictions good enough? Questions of this sort are asked frequently in America especially in the wake of a mass shooting as at Sandy Hook three years ago. It is my opinion that these are the wrong questions to ask, and people should be asking if the USA has a problem with how they view guns. Thus if Americans can correct the manner they perceive firearms then the wide spread possession of guns in America will become less of a problem. For example, the rate of privately owned firearms in Switzerland per 100 people is 45.7 and their rate of gun deaths is 3.04 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011[1] while in America had are 101.05 privately owned guns per 100 people and 10.38 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2011[2]. These figures do not include firearms which are technically owned by the government or military but are kept by off-duty personnel. If those figures were included then the ratio for Switzerland would be higher due to all male citizens being reservists whose firearms are military owned but are kept at home[3]. The figure for gun deaths includes deaths by accidents and gun homicide. A telling difference between these two nations is how they perceive and treat guns. In the USA, a person can buy a gun if they pass a criminal record and a mental health check, are a citizen and are over 18[4], whereas in Switzerland citizens have to receive basic military training upon reaching a certain age.[5] This means that everyone who has access to firearms in Switzerland understands exactly what guns are capable of and have been checked to not have the mental issues which could lead to them trying to kill other people.

Guns use chemical reactions which create large amounts of gas. This expanding cloud of gas is contained in a chamber. The resultant gas pressure forces a metal slug out of the chamber over the speed of sound, except for specialist sub-sonic rounds which travel slower but work the same. This bullet causes a lot of damage on contact on soft objects, such as people. Any person who is directly hit from a bullet fired by a gun is either seriously wounded and in need of urgent medical attention, which may or may not be able to prevent the person from dying, or in rare cases they are killed outright. Guns thus must been seen by those who use them as a lethal weapon, even if they are being used as a hunting tool or for recreational purposes. As long as the user is mindful of this fact, and acts with appropriate care then there should be no problems with guns being used for entertainment. Entire sports have derived from careful gun usage such as clay pigeon shooting, target shooting and various Olympic competitions. However, problems arise when such care is not taken such as an incident where a 9 year old girl was allowed to shoot a sub machinegun at full automatic on a firing range. She was unable to control the recoil of the gun and ended up killing an instructor at the range.[6] These accidental deaths are much more frequent in America due to the lack of respect with which some people treat guns.

The aforementioned lack of respect of the capabilities of firearms derives from how common place guns are in American culture and history. The original settlers of the American continent needed to possess weapons not only to hunt for food around their settlements but also to help secure their homesteads from attacks from the natives. Thus for the original settlers, the possession of guns was a necessity to their survival and their livelihoods. Although private possession of firearms were common during this time as many people would carry some sort of weapon for protection from criminals or animals. As more colonies were started in the Americas by competing European powers, all people in the colonies were expected to own a firearm to help create civilian militias if needed. These civilian militias would later help form the colonial army or the minutemen militia units of the rebellious Thirteen Colonies when they decided to become independent from the Kingdom of Great Britain. These minutemen militias were a reaction to the naval dominance of Britain which allowed them to land troops at will over the east coast of America. Unable to deploy regular units over the whole coast, the minutemen would be local men who assembled to delay any British incursions while a regular force was assembled to face the British. The minutemen would also be expected to supplement the army with light irregular infantry. The second amendment was formulated in the decade after the end of war of independence and The Thirteen Colonies being recognised as an independent nation known as the United States of America. The Second Amendment states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A popular interpretation of this amendment is that it grants individuals the right to own firearms at will or at least prevents legislation which excessively inhibits firearm ownership. This legislation was sensible at the time as all nations in this time period had some form of civilian militia, such the British fencibles or the Prussian Landwehr, to aid in defence or bolster numbers. Furthermore the firearms of the day were muzzel loading muskets which were notoriously inaccurate and slow to load, good troops were expected to fire three to five rounds a minute, which meant that disciplined troops and weight of numbers was important for infantry combat.

However the capabilities of firearms available to the general public have massively advanced since the war of independence. Instead of a flintlock musket, people can now buy assault rifles which are extremely accurate and could fire several hundred rounds in a minute if it could somehow be provided with enough ammunition to do so. This means that instead of a madman firing a single shot which is likely to miss, this same person could fire thirty bullets from an assault rifle, accuracy of these bullets dependent on the shooter, then rapidly reload another thirty bullets and continue fighting. The increased potency of firearms has likewise increased the damage a single person could do in an unexpected attack. Furthermore it is harder to stop the gunman as previously the local guards or even the attacked civilians could overwhelm this attacker. In modern times some either has to manage to make an accurate shot while under heavy return fire from the gunman, a difficult task even for trained military personnel, or wait until gunman’s weapon becomes unusable or fire off even more bullets at the attacker. This increases the risk of allowing the general populous free access to firearms. Considering that the USA has the highest military budget in the world and one of the largest militaries in terms of personnel, the rationale of the Second Amendment is irreverent a militia formed of the armed population of a state is no longer necessary for its security.

The above demonstrates how ingrained guns are to American culture which makes it much more difficult to legislate more gun control laws which means that other answers need to be found to reduce gun deaths in America. One small change, but the hardest to implement, would be to stop private gun ownership being a right for all citizens but still allowable by law. This allows for people to own guns for private use but removes the implication that guns are common item which are owed to people. This may help to reduce the nonchalance with which some people treat guns and thus help to reduce accidental deaths. This can be aided with changing acquisition laws to so that people looking to buy a firearm has to get a licence in a similar manner to a drivers licence. To get this licence people would need to prove that they know how to maintain a gun, how to use it safely and understand the consequences of a person being shot. Therefore this change would aid in decreasing accidental deaths from gun mishandling and the process of getting a gun license should aid in preventing dangerous people from easily acquiring a dangerous weapon.

A second change which would aid in reducing the amount of gun deaths would be to campaign to remove the stigma of mental health problems and increase mental health treatment. By removing the stigma of mental health problems, people will be more likely to seek help for issues rather than feeling alienated and isolated. Therefore more people will receive treatment to solve their problems rather than being overcome by their health problems. This would reduce gun deaths in two methods. Firstly less people would seek to commit suicide. Secondly it would reduce the amount of gun homicides as it would decrease the likelihood of people snapping and causing a mass shooting event like the aforementioned Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

[1] http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/switzerland

[2] http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states

[3] http://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/18950937/newsbeats-guide-to-us-gun-law

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24195870 Swiss military conscription

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/02/girl-who-accidentally-shot-her-instructor-with-an-uzi-said-the-gun-was-too-much-for-her/

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